Kitchen garden wreaths

Edible and easy to make, they'll last for months
Lauren Bonar Swezey

"The wreath speaks to everyone," explains Teddy Colbert, who created her first living wreath 25 years ago. "Love without end; honor and victory. Today it's primarily a sign of hospitality."

Colbert's early wreaths were sensational living tapestries - succulents of different colors, sizes, and shapes growing in wire frames wrapped with sphagnum moss and filled with potting soil. She built a business around them. But eventually she longed to branch out, using other kinds of plants.

Salad greens, for instance. In the fields near her home in Somis, California, she discovered the beauty of lime green and red baby lettuces beside frisée (curly endive). Lettuce seedlings made her salad greens wreath a stunning success. "Then I asked myself, if lettuces work, why not herbs or even strawberries?" says Colbert.

You'll find three ideas below. On the next page, we give basic instructions for constructing any of Colbert's wreaths. You can buy frames at a craft or floral supply store. Colbert also sells wreath frame kits (800/833-3981 or www.livingwreath.com), as does Kinsman Company (800/733-4146 or www.kinsmangarden.com). Other supplies are available at nurseries and home centers.

 

Herbs galore

"The herb wreath has delivered us from many dull meals," says Colbert. It needs regular trimming - use the snippets as garnishes or chop them to put in soups, salads, and herb butters.

Favorites: Chocolate mint, cilantro, dill, English thyme, garlic chives, Italian parsley, oregano, sage, salad burnet, sweet basil, and sweet marjoram.

Tips

• Use a 14- or 18-inch-diameter frame.

• Start with young plants (especially basil, which, preferably, should only have its first set of true leaves). If you can't find young ones, start from seed.

• In planting, alternate types of herbs. Position dill (which grows tall) and sage (which likes drier conditions) on the flanks of the wreath.

• Plant mints at the bottom, where they get extra moisture.

• Grow in a sunny spot just outside the kitchen.

• Use fish emulsion, diluted to half-strength, every time you water.

Mixed lettuces

"Set a salad wreath on the table and the guests can harvest their own greens," says Colbert. There are dozens of different lettuces and greens available. Choose at least five colors and textures; alternate them when you plant.

Start varieties from seed and transplant them when they have only two or three sets of leaves, or buy sixpacks of frisée and lettuces at a local nursery with a good selection (buy only young seedlings that aren't rootbound).

Favorites: 'Oak Leaf', 'Lollo Rossa', 'Red Oak Leaf', and 'Red Sails' lettuces; 'Neos' chicory frisée.

 

Tips

• Use a 14- or 18-inch-diameter frame.

• Let the wreath grow on a fence, gate, or table in full sun.

• Give hanging wreaths a half turn periodically so the plants at the bottom don't stay too wet.

• To harvest, snip off just the outer leaves, so the small plants will continue growing for up to several months.

Simply strawberries

"A strawberry wreath is so easy to make," says Colbert. "Just start with young plants and don't bury the plants' crowns."

Use everbearing strawberries, which produce from early summer through fall.

Tips

• In spring and summer, start with sixpacks of young seedlings. In winter, use bareroot plants (soak before planting).

• Use 28 plants for a 14-inch-diameter frame and 36 plants for an 18-inch-diameter frame.

• Plant the first set of strawberries toward the outside of the wreath, placing them 4 inches apart; angle the foliage outward. Plant another set of plants between the first ones; direct the foliage upward.

• Give the wreath a half turn periodically so the bottom plants don't stay wet.

• Use a dilute (quarter-strength) solution of a balanced fertilizer (such as 14-14-14) every time you water.